a midwinter night's scheme

designing for all seasons 

my favorite garden tool!
In the bleakness of winter it feels like a great accomplishment to clean up the garden. While many plants 'sleep' in their dormancy: the wet loose soil makes weeding a breeze and transplanting happens with more ease. So if there is time to work during the these short days, take the opportunity! Despite the cold and dreary skies, the lingering dampness, and frequent rain its a good time to garden here in most of the Pacific Northwest. 
More importantly; winter is the best time to plan. It typically slows down for me this time of year. We designers have less on our plate and are happily able to focus on one project at a time! In early part of the year our homeowner clients are recuperating from the holidays and due to the cold short days are not thinking about 'outdoor living'. Which is precisely why January is the best time to get started on a new design project. 
In the design studio its also a great time to be mindful of winter and in practice how to incorporate features such as fireplaces and covered patios that can coax you outdoors. 
most popular request of 2016...fire-pit!
The evolution of the outdoor heater is another one. 
Thankfully they've come along way from 'droid-looking' standing lamps. Look for one that can be discretely tuck under a roof line or a smaller, sleeker portable device. 
Another great trend that I find our residential clients are very receptive too is LED low-voltage landscape lighting. Seeing a warm-wash of light on the trunk of a mature tree, or a down lit path to a front door makes one feel more welcome and safe. This past year several of costumers told me the favorite feature of their new landscape was how wonderful the lighting looked when they came home from work. Not only did it create a better ambiance outside, the visual impact of the views from inside the home was more dramatic and interesting. Lighting is simple and typically quite cost effective. Though string lights and solar-powered luminaries have become more popular; an installed LV system is more effective and can easily be switched on/off via a timer or daylight sensor. I predict we will be completing more lighting plans in 2017.
low voltage landscape lighting the way

As for winter planting....
We often get asked by clients if winter is a 'safe' time to plant? The answer is 'yes'! Though I do not recommend planting in temps below freezing for fear the exposed roots could be harmed by freezing. Lucky or us here in Pacific Northwest most of the winter is safe. The main advantages to installing new plantings in winter are: less potential for drought and stress on the plants, less watering required (regularly), and that the soil is typically looser and easily to mix. Its also helpful that weed growth is stunted during winter. 

red & yellow stem dogwood in winter
A great approach to design is the massing of winter-interest plantings throughout the garden. I find especially pertinent when configuring what is seen from a window or against a backdrop such as a fence or evergreen hedge. The fun and challenge of planting design 'stems' from the way trees, shrubs, and perennials change seasonally, as well as mature over time. 
Species such as red, orange, and yellow-twig dogwoods can really brighten up an otherwise green and brown affair. 
 Cornus sericea 'Isanti' is one of my favorites. 
Corylopsis pauciflora flowering
Another gorgeous variety is Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter flame' (Bloodtwig dogwood). There are other notable shrubs for winter interest; many of my favorites are discoveries from walking in Washington Park's Witt Winter Garden. I highly recommend a trip there in mid February. You will be amazed; if not overwhelmed by fragrance, texture, and color. 
Other favorites include Corylopsis pauciflora (Buttercup winter hazel), Garrya (Silk tasselbush), and the indisputable lovely, persistent, simple flowers of Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose). 

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